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November 1, 2009 1:35 PM   Subscribe

A lecture from Professor Amy Hungerford on Cormac Mccarthy's Blood Meridian. Part one and two.

Previously on Blood Meridian here and a mention of Professor Amy Hungerford here
posted by nola (41 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks for this. His best book, by far, IMO.
posted by Pistol at 2:44 PM on November 1, 2009


Good timing. Pretty sure I read this exactly four years ago. It was a good fall book - the dark tone fit the weather, yet it also takes place in a hot climate, which was good for the escapism angle.
posted by mannequito at 2:55 PM on November 1, 2009


They rode on.
posted by The Michael The at 3:18 PM on November 1, 2009


Great post. I did in fact read this book on the beach last summer. Ruined my vacation.
posted by leading question at 3:18 PM on November 1, 2009


I've never read anything by Mccarthy nola. Which ones would you recommend?
posted by vronsky at 3:21 PM on November 1, 2009


I'm in the middle of this now. It's a rather dense read, at least, it is compared to the two McCarthy books I read before--No Country for Old Men and The Road. Blood Meridian makes those look like Dan Brown thrillers.
posted by zardoz at 3:39 PM on November 1, 2009


She mispronounces "portentous" at 15:03.

(not a grammar/pronunciation nazi, but she is a professor at Yale)
posted by vronsky at 3:40 PM on November 1, 2009


I will never forget my encounter with that book. I often dream of the Judge. Of all literary characters, I am only afraid of him.

With that said, I'm looking forward to watching these videos.
posted by localhuman at 3:48 PM on November 1, 2009


I'm in the middle of this now. It's a rather dense read, at least, it is compared to the two McCarthy books I read before--No Country for Old Men and The Road. Blood Meridian makes those look like Dan Brown thrillers.

And makes Dan Brown thrillers look like the collective output of a 2nd grade class, and not one at a gifted school.

Blood Meridian is one of the few books that I finished and immediately began reading again. What a damn good book.
posted by The Michael The at 3:58 PM on November 1, 2009


I've never read anything by Mccarthy nola. Which ones would you recommend?
posted by vronsky


I've not read much by him but of what I've read Blood Meridian is my favorite.
posted by nola at 4:04 PM on November 1, 2009


Quite cool! Anyone know if Yale makes audio available (mp3) of these book lectures?

PS- if you want to take a quick spin through McCarthy, Child of God is the way to. Shortest of his novels, and ever as troubling as anything he's written.
posted by xmutex at 4:06 PM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


His best book, by far, IMO.

For me, his best is Suttree.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 4:26 PM on November 1, 2009


I never fully understood how the Kid reached his end, but it terrified me nonetheless.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:31 PM on November 1, 2009


Suttree is the best, IMO. Child of God is a good recommendation for a first read, I think; it is indeed as troubling as anything of his, but it also has some of his best comic writing and dialogue.

Good post! I've enjoyed the first half hour so far.
posted by ericost at 4:35 PM on November 1, 2009


vronsky - I've only read No Country For Old Men. It's a damn good book. It appears very simply written, but for some reason the simplicity made me want to read slower, not faster. Anyway I have just ordered Blood Meridian.
posted by carter at 4:42 PM on November 1, 2009


Quite cool! Anyone know if Yale makes audio available (mp3) of these book lectures?

Unfortunately, you really kind of have to watch the videos, because the students aren't miked, and you can't know what they're asking without the subtitles. These are pretty great lectures, however, and seem worth being stuck in front of your computer for to me.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:44 PM on November 1, 2009


because the students aren't miked, and you can't know what they're asking without the subtitles.

I didn't notice any subtitles on the linked Youtube videos. Do I have to turn them on or something?
posted by xmutex at 4:54 PM on November 1, 2009


I never fully understood how the Kid reached his end, but it terrified me nonetheless.

Isn't that the most terrifying part? I always thought that was a brilliant ending.
posted by Slap Factory at 4:55 PM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I didn't notice any subtitles on the linked Youtube videos. Do I have to turn them on or something?

Huh...I'm not sure. They're just kind of there for me.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:57 PM on November 1, 2009


Quite cool! Anyone know if Yale makes audio available (mp3) of these book lectures?

iTunes U, with lots of other lectures from Hungerford. The course is called "The American Novel Since 1945." McCarthy is discussed in lectures 17 and 18. Have not listened to any of them yet, but interested in hearing Lolita, Wise Blood, The Crying of Lot 49, and others.
posted by Slap Factory at 5:02 PM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


God, I couldn't stand The Crying of Lot 49 but I've enjoyed all of McCarthy's books that I've read with the exception of The Road which I thought was insanely boring.

As a jumping off point I'd start with All the Pretty Horses, that book is pretty fantastic.
posted by cyphill at 5:27 PM on November 1, 2009



I confess that I only started reading McCarthy after reading The Road -- which I picked up in a laundromat of all places a few years ago. I have since read just about everything by him and enjoyed them all.

I think Sutree is my favorite thus far.

For those that liked Blood Meridian I higly recommend Notes on Blood Meridian which is an excellent resource.
posted by trixare4kids at 6:05 PM on November 1, 2009


the avclub had a blood meridian discussion in june...
posted by kliuless at 6:24 PM on November 1, 2009


It took me two tries to get through it, but I ended up really enjoying it when I was able to give it the attention it deserves. I read it on a cruise actually, and it really tainted my ability to do the electric slide.
Enjoying these lectures, the whole course can be found here.
posted by mike_bling at 6:29 PM on November 1, 2009


I guess the reason no one mentioned that is because it's explicitly linked to in the other post. Bah.
posted by mike_bling at 6:31 PM on November 1, 2009


I just started re-reading this novel a couple of days ago. It's possibly my favourite book with the possible exception of The Great Gatsby. I've seen a few of the other lectures in this series and I was always kind of unimpressed—maybe I was expecting more from Yale—but I'll certainly be watching these regardless.
posted by synecdoche at 6:33 PM on November 1, 2009


I watched these a few months ago. They're very interesting, but she barely scratches the surface of her own arguments. I'd be interested in a longer version of her lecture.
posted by Bookhouse at 6:44 PM on November 1, 2009


nice post.
posted by ms.jones at 6:46 PM on November 1, 2009


I'm glad to see someone else recommend Child of God. It almost never comes up in the conversations I've had about his work, except by me. It was my first McCarthy, and it was full of dark, dark humor of the sort I didn't think was possible to pull off. Wonderful, disturbing book.
posted by middleclasstool at 8:38 PM on November 1, 2009


I liked how at the end she killed a dancing bear and looked right in the camera and said "I can never die!"
posted by tylerfulltilt at 9:06 PM on November 1, 2009


The only McCarthy book I've read is The Road. That was one too many for me.

The bleakness of the story didn't bother me so much as the lack of any real style to the writing. Oh, and the almost complete lack of punctuation, which hampers a story a lot more than you might think. It kinda struck me as what Hemingway would've been like if he had been raised by wolves and hadn't quite grasped all of the conventions of English yet but decided to write a novel anyway.

However, I gave the writer the benefit of the doubt and read it all the way through. It wasn't a terrible book by any means, but it's not one I would ever read again.

I even tried to justify it to myself, thinking that perhaps the way it had been written was some sort of purposeful stylistic suck on the McCarthy's part; the barren prose meant to subtly convey how barren the Earth had become.

But no: I picked up a copy of No Country for Old Men and flipped through it, and it's written exactly the same way.

Which is a shame, because I quite liked the Coen Brothers movie. Well, not liked as such -- I don't really think books and movies such as this are meant to be liked so much as suffered through gladly -- but I thought it was well-crafted.

Similarly, I wouldn't be surprised if I wound up thinking positively of the upcoming film adaptation of The Road.
posted by Target Practice at 2:00 AM on November 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


If you've never read any Cormac McCarthy I'd highly recommend starting with All The Pretty Horses. Spectacular writing, engaging characters, and interesting plot. If you like it, continue on and read the next two books in the border trilogy. After reading those, I became a big fan and have read most of his other work, but All The Pretty Horses remains my favorite. Some of the others (Blood Meridian in particular) can be a little too bleak and horrifying at times.
posted by emd3737 at 2:56 AM on November 2, 2009


I even tried to justify it to myself, thinking that perhaps the way it had been written was some sort of purposeful stylistic suck on the McCarthy's part; the barren prose meant to subtly convey how barren the Earth had become.

In my view, the elimination of punctuation and the refusal to artificially distinguish elements of his prose is very powerful and part of what I enjoy about his work. McCarthy doesn't believe in the separation of thought and action, and his characters don't progress in steps, they flow through their scenes. Things often happen in quick succession, breathlessly. In a book like No Country for Old Men, this heightens the feeling of anxiety that's crucial to the plot. It's as if McCarthy's prose is trying to run away from itself, which parallels the themes of pursuit and escape that permeate the novel. There's never any rest for the characters, and McCarthy makes sure the readers feel that, too.

When I first read McCarthy, I was taken aback by the lack of quotation marks, periods, and other expected forms of demarcation, but when I paused to consider it, I realized I had never taken into account that such things are really nothing more than crutches for a reader -- like the difference between a serif and a sans-serif font. They allow readers to quickly grasp the action, point-of-view, and intent of a scene. Without them, readers are forced to pay extra attention, read more closely, and explore the scene in greater depth and detail to find out exactly what is happening. Without them, you're no longer simply reading a book, you're engaging with it, and that immersive experience is exactly what McCarthy is going for in his work.

I understand and empathize with those who find it difficult, and to each their own, of course, but it's never a bad idea to surrender one's preconceptions about what prose should look like and try something new, something daring. Words aren't just a means of conveying information, they're art themselves, and how they're used can be every bit as compelling and exciting as the things they're meant to describe.
posted by mpbx at 7:57 AM on November 2, 2009 [7 favorites]


I've got to try Blood Meridian again. I was overcome by the bleak devastation and violence and had to put it aside.

I first picked it up after being blown away by a passage from the book that I stumbled across many, many years ago on the old WELL.

I'm not sure if this is the same one, but if not, it has the same feel to it:

That night they rode through a region electric and wild where strange shapes of soft blue fire ran over the metal of the horses' trappings and the wagon wheels rolled in hoops of fire and little shapes of pale blue light came to perch in the ears of the horses and in the beards of the men. All night sheet lightning quaked sourceless to the west beyond the midnight thunder-heads, making a bluish day of the distant desert, the mountains on the sudden skyline stark and black and livid like a land of some other order out there whose true geology was not stone but fear. The thunder moved up from the southwest and lightning lit the desert all about them, blue and barren, great clanging reaches ordered out of the absolute night like some demon kingdom summoned up or changeling land that come the day would leave them neither trace nor smoke nor ruin more than any troubling dream.

From a longer excerpt found here.
posted by marsha56 at 8:04 AM on November 2, 2009


mpbx

I don't find it difficult so much as lazy and uninteresting.
posted by Target Practice at 9:36 AM on November 2, 2009


I don't find it difficult so much as lazy and uninteresting.

Finding it uninteresting is your prerogative. Calling it lazy misses the point. It's an intentional and purposeful stylistic choice on the part of the author that relates closely to the themes present in the work. You're not obligated to enjoy or appreciate it, but it's by no means lazy. It's not as if McCarthy couldn't be bothered to hit the "" keys on his typewriter. Their omission is meaningful.
posted by mpbx at 10:07 AM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


child of god, sutree, blood meridian all brilliant but having read all his work inculding his play I understand that his style can feel leaden and gimmicky after a bit. Still, one of the few writers I recommend to just about anyone, any age group at anytime.
posted by xjudson at 10:22 AM on November 2, 2009


Interesting comments.

I've read a few Cormac books which I thought were just okay, but 'Blood Meridian' really stood out for me because of his outlandish poetic writing.

I got the impression that he was sort of re-interpreting that florid, long-winded 19th century Victorian mode of expression, but breaking it up with lots of commas and periods (and obviously not quote marks) into a more jagged Hemingwayesque thingy. Even so, a beautiful prose style, despite the grotesque violence depicted.
posted by ovvl at 4:47 PM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't find it difficult so much as lazy and uninteresting.

Yeah, feel free to call it uninteresting, but calling it lazy is just flat-out wrong.
posted by Bookhouse at 5:27 PM on November 2, 2009


Few writers today seem to be as polarizing as McCarthy. Who else can on one hand be revered internationally by critics but at the same time panned as simplistic and uninteresting by many of the reading public?

I think you can read McCarthy on different levels. The intro version is The Border Trilogy (All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, Cities of the Plain). The middle tier is probably The Road and No Country... And the advanced is Blood Meridian.

That said, I found BM shocking, nauseating, and repetitive. I've spent a decent amount of time thinking about what he's trying to show and why, but nothing has stuck. Is it to show us that violence is all around us? Or part of us? Why would McCarthy want to own the most violent and repugnant passages out there? Is it that we'll never be free of being animals?
posted by erikvan at 6:30 PM on November 2, 2009


This is simply wonderful.

Thank you for posting this, nola.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:36 PM on November 2, 2009


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